Thursday, April 14, 2011

TBG Eats: The NEW Turkey Burgers from Carl's Jr.

Current Weight: 162.2 lbs.

It's fair to say that my family consumes a good amount of ground turkey.

In fact, among African-Americans, I am reasonably certain we eat more of it than anyone else within our ethnicity. (Our household also leads all black people in Major League Baseball interest and craft beer purchases. You cannot be surprised by this.) Ground turkey is simply one of those things that never caught on within the black community.

It's easy to find which goods and services we're generally slow to embrace. Just flip through any black-themed magazine like Essence or Ebony. The ads are almost uniformly written in a way that introduces a product – even those that have been available for decades – as if it were new. Usually with a condescending tagline like "Haven't You Heard…?" (The broadcast equivalent would go a little something like this.) Right next to the Afro-centric ads for Hamburger Helper and Hostess Twinkies; you'll find a few full-color pages for ground turkey.

Thankfully, Mrs. Bootleg knows her way around a mutilated, disemboweled bird.

Her "WWE Triple-Threat-Match Meat Loaf" combines ground turkey with ground sirloin and ground pork. My wife knows how much I enjoy this, so she only makes it two or three times per year and ALWAYS with a side of bribery ("I'll make it, but only if you agree to help hold Jalen down for his flu shot tomorrow.")

For her turkey burgers, my wife blends ground turkey with seasoned bread crumbs, egg and liberal dashes from a spice jar marked "steak seasoning". The finished product has a ground beef texture and holds its smoky flavors after it is lifted from the grill. I've been known to consume two in a single sitting followed by the last two bites that my son left behind. (Also: when he wasn't looking.)

A few weeks back, Carl's Jr. -- along with their sister franchise, Hardee's -- became the first major fast food chain to serve turkey burgers on its menu. According to a company press release, the burgers were conceptualized and created by the editors of Men's Health magazine and the creators of the Eat This, Not That! weight-loss guide.*

* -- I highly recommend the "Eat This, Not That" Twitter feed. Several sanctimonious nutritional tweets per day that warn followers of "EVIL APPETIZERS" (all caps, theirs) "CONDIMENT CRIME" or "SODIUM STACK-UP" accompanied by some (properly capitalized) advice. They also suggest completely reasonable swaps of almost-identical snacks and side items.

Here in Southern California, Carl's Jr. has been in the midst of an ad blitz, exploiting several media/marketing platforms to get the word out on turkey burgers. And, speaking of exploitation.

I swear, I'm going to get to the review really soon. One point, though: why would one of the five largest fast food chains in the country (when combined with Hardee's) offer an ostensibly healthier alternative to the traditional hamburger and then alienate their entire female audience? In the mid-1990s, Carl's Jr. successfully gender-positioned their menu items as unapologetic "guy food". Lower-calorie turkey burgers seemed like an open invitation to temporarily pivot from that position, no?

A-a-a-and, we're back. The Carl's Jr. brand is serving Guacamole Turkey Burgers and Teriyaki Turkey Burgers to go along with the "original" Turkey Burger. The Midwest and Southern-based Hardee's is serving Mushroom Swiss and BBQ Ranch Turkey Burgers. Since I can't yet bring myself to board a plane solely for a "TBG Eats" post, you get the Carl's Jr. review. The good news is that I've tried both non-"original" options.

The Guacamole Turkey Burger features a charbroiled turkey patty, guacamole, pepper jack cheese, tomato and lettuce on a honey wheat Bun. Carl's Jr. ambiguously bills their guacamole as "freshly prepared", but what's not open for interpretation is that this guac is good -- at least by fast food standards. The guacamole on my turkey burger had a terrific spicy kick and a passable avocado note. It was slathered on pretty good which helped mask the inherently arid meat.

Without some effort at the preparation stage, a moist turkey burger is an impossibility. Carl's Jr. loads up on condiments and rides its charbroiled approach to cooking. Even though it's not listed on its website, I'm certain my Guacamole Turkey Burger also had slivered red onions. They really worked well with the cooler vegetables and, of all things, the sweet and chewy bun. The burger itself had a nice lightly-charred taste even if the texture was a bit off. Still, quite a pleasant surprise.

I was less enamored with the Teriyaki Turkey Burger. It's the same charbroiled turkey patty with grilled pineapple, teriyaki glaze, Swiss cheese, red onion, tomato and lettuce on a honey wheat Bun. Unlike Carl's Jr's soo-POIB Six Dollar Teriyaki Burger, the flavors and substance of the ground turkey isn't enough for the other ingredients to build upon. The teriyaki glaze and Swiss cheese just sit there -- segregated within a singular sandwich. Most disappointing, while the pineapple slice works fine with the red onion and glaze, it does nothing with/for the meat.

Carl's Jr. should be credited for thinking outside the box. If they bring on Mrs. Bootleg as a consultant/subject matter expert, they'll knock it out of the park.

Grade (Guacamole Turkey Burger): 4 (out of 5) Calories: 490 Fat: 21g

Grade (Teriyaki Turkey Burger): 2.5 (out of 5) Calories: 470 Fat: 14g


Lew B said...

Just so you know - Hamburger Helper is the main dinner in white trash trailer parks from coast to coast.

And you have a marketing degree, but are most women conscious enough to realize they are being exploited (via their bodies [if the body is good enough]) for the sake of selling grub?

Smitty said...

A turkey burger? Did your husband buy it for you?

JPinAZ said...

So will ground bacon be making an appearance in the next iteration of Mrs. B's meatloaf?

NY Jon said...

How did your first few paragraphs not merit the elusive "Negro Elitist" tag???

I've always been down with Tastykake over Twinkies. If you haven't had a butterscotch krimpet you're missing out.

And how can anyone NOT love Essence magazine? The Steve Harvey relationship advice column! The superficial fashion section that's always followed by the first-person account of women with $10K in credit card debt! Those airbrushed covers!

Aaron C. said...

@Jon -- Good call. I need some more good elitist inspiration.

Y'know, I've never had anything from the Tastykake family. Sounds like some research is in order.

And, the best part of Essence is easily the letters to the editor. It's like the letters are actually yelling.

@JP -- We're about due for another batch. What do meat ginders go for on the open market? :)

@Matt -- There's more to life than your tater tot poutine swimming in duck gravy, yo.

@Lew -- Uh, yeah. I'm pretty sure they do. And, have you heard? Now, they can vote!

JPinAZ said...

Many grocery stores have these employees called "butchers". You can give them the meat product you wish to purchase and they will grind it for you.

Aaron C. said...

"Butchers"? Yeah, right, JP.

A wonderful, MAGICAL employee.

Smitty said...

Aaron- Is "Meat Grinder" your term for prostitute?

nicka said...

"I don't know why they call this stuff Hamburger Helper, it does just fine by itself."